In an old neighborhood strewn with time-worn, wood-frame houses, an Indian “palace” stands in stark contrast. The curious building is Kalachandji’s Restaurant and Palace.

Although Kalachandji’s has been a part of our neighborhood for 25 years, many residents have no idea what’s behind the palace doors. And while many neighbors have never eaten at Kalachandji’s, a Hare Krishna-owned and operated restaurant, it has been trumpeted as one of the nation’s top natural food restaurants according to “Vegetarian Times” magazine.

Kalachandji’s, 5430 Gurley at Graham, serves up an Indian-inspired, meatless buffet that attracts vegetarians as well as meat-eaters who just enjoy the food and atmosphere. The favored seating area at the restaurant is outside on a small patio graced by a fountain and accented with colorful ceramic tiles.

Kalachandji’s patrons run the gamut from buttoned-down accountants and lawyers to aging hippies and rock stars. (Annie Lennox and The Pretenders’ Chrissie Hindman have sought out the restaurant while visiting Dallas.)

“One couple holds season tickets to the opera, and they come to eat before each performance wearing a tux and evening gown,” says Arci devi dasi, a restaurant employee.

“Older people come here, and they love it. One older woman heard our name mentioned in the beauty parlor. Now she’s a regular.”

Despite a strong customer following, the owners sense that many locals are leery of eating in a vegetarian restaurant operated by Hare Krishnas.

“People think we’re a cult,” says Nityananda dasa, director of community services for Kalachandji’s. “Krishnas had a lot of negative publicity generated by our aggressive enthusiasm of earlier years. We’ve quieted down. We’re not out to convert people.”

So just what are local Hare Krishnas trying to achieve by operating a restaurant?

“The restaurant is a feature of all Krishna communities,” Nityananda says. “There is a notion in western culture that vegetarian food is good for the health, but not very palatable.”

“Actually, the food can be very exciting. Our objective is to present the vegetarian lifestyle, the variety of food and show that nourishment can be enjoyable.”

To attract more visitors, Kalachandji’s palace is receiving a $300,000 facelift expected to be completed this year.

“The look we’re giving the exterior is one that carries a mystical theme of the East,” Nityananda says.

Inside, the eastern theme is strongest in the “museum,” across the hall from the restaurant, which is actually the temple where local Krishnas worship. Curious neighborhood residents are welcome to walk through the elaborate temple, Nityananda says.

Those interested in taking a peek at Krishna culture can time their visits around 6:30 p.m., when Krishna devotees perform a musical worship program.

For information, call 821-1048.